Letters for June 9

Readers sound off on Transbay buses, Berkeley warm pools, and teacher tenure.

“AC Transit’s Duplication of Service,” Full Disclosure, 5/19

Bikes Can’t BART

I read with interest your article about AC Transit’s Transbay operation duplicating BART — in particular quoting BART’s Linton Johnson: “We could easily absorb every one of them without a problem.” As usual, BART is ignoring a key constituency.

On Tuesday, as someone who chooses not to own a car, on the way into SF, since both origin and destination were too far from BART for the inadequate connections onto AC Transit and Muni, I rode my ebike to BART. However, since my meetings finished after the 4:11 BART train, the last one that bikes are allowed on, there was no other choice for returning to the East Bay than AC Transit — unless I was prepared to wait more than two hours for BART’s 6:34 train.

I had to skip the first bus as there were too many cyclists ahead of me (the buses only take three or four bikes) and the bus I took was almost full, and all the spaces for bikes were full on that bus as well.

So please don’t forget bikes when suggesting that AC Transit cut back Transbay services. We do NOT have another choice until and unless BART starts allowing bikes on more trains.

Mitra Ardron, Berkeley

Longer and More Expensive Commutes

While I fully support the anti-Van Hool fight, which is a huge waste of taxpayer money, there is no good argument for slashing even more of AC Transit’s Transbay bus service than already planned. The overwhelming majority of routes do not duplicate BART service.

Mr. Gammon notes that 16 percent of Transbay service was cut. That’s a huge number — far more than the percentage of local service that was cut. Routes S and SA were merged, and Route BA was added to pick up slack on the NL (which lost half its Transbay service) and local Route 13 (which was completely eliminated). Dozens of trips on other lines were trimmed.

The F is a poor example to use to argue for further cuts. Unlike many Transbay routes, the F serves three different travel markets, not just the traditional Transbay commute market:

1. The first is local travel between Berkeley and Emeryville. There are no other lines that do this; Route 19 was cut in March. And there is no good BART/AC Transit alternative because the 57 (which picks up at MacArthur BART Station) no longer serves Emeryville. Yes, Emery Go Round does pick up at MacArthur, but a quick look at the schedule clearly shows AC Transit has far more service far later into the evening, especially on weekends.

2. The second is the UC Berkeley student market. UC Berkeley students constitute a sizable portion of AC Transit ridership, and the route is the sole direct link between campus and San Francisco. Not only would students not be able to afford the added BART expense, they would be forced to walk or transfer between services late at night, exposing them — and especially young women traveling independently — to unnecessary safety risks.

3. The third is the traditional Transbay commute market between Emeryville and San Francisco. Having a bus cross the Bay Bridge with 19 passengers on board is not particularly high or low, but it is consistent with service operated by Golden Gate Transit and SamTrans to/from the City and does take 18 vehicles off the road.

When you consider these travel markets, how can they all be efficiently served? Mr. Gammon seems to argue that it makes the most sense to abandon the latter two groups and focus on the first, but all three can be served at only a slightly higher cost. In fact, the additional operating expense likely is completely negated by the Transbay fares, which help subsidize the expensive local service that Mr. Gammon feels so strongly about.

So let’s take Route B then, since it was brought up as another example. Sure it serves an upscale neighborhood, but it also stops adjacent to the Grand Lake Theater. Can anyone tell me where the nearest BART station is to the Grand Lake neighborhood? Oh, right, it’s a mile and a half away! Good luck convincing people to walk 30 minutes after a long day of work.

But Mr. Gammon has the perfect solution: Have AC Transit shuttle passengers to the nearest BART station. Sounds like a feel-good option right? Well, unfortunately, that is not the case. It has been demonstrated time and again that commuters are highly resistant to forced transfers and would likely abandon public transit, or at least the bus portion of the trip, altogether. BART parking lots already meet or exceed capacity during commute periods, and the residents surrounding BART stations rightly demand more community amenities and fewer parking spaces — smart growth, as it is commonly called — not more parking.

Even if these logistics can be worked out, commuters would be faced with longer commute times and higher commute costs. A round-trip to the City using AC Transit local buses and BART would cost about 50 percent more over an existing AC Transit Transbay commute. And instead of a 25-minute commute each way, to use Route B as an example, riders would be faced with the same 25-minute commute on two separate vehicles, which requires additional transfer time. That could turn out to be 30 or 40 minutes when all is said and done. Why would anyone pay 50 percent more for a commute that is 50 percent longer?

I have studied the AC Transit proposal currently being circulated, and I found only one Transbay route that could sustain any more cuts — Route LA. And this is only because WestCAT already operates frequent, inexpensive bus service in the area, so commuters really wouldn’t be losing out.

Finally, let’s remember that AC Transit is a public transit agency. It is not just transit for poor people. Embracing this backward logic will harm every effort we’ve made so far to encourage public transit use as a means of improving the environment through fewer vehicles on the road and less pollution in the air.

David Davenport, Berkeley

Understand the Market

At a time when the region should be involved in a serious and objective discussion about the increasing role public transportation must have in meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals, it was truly disappointing to read Robert Gammon’s superficial and poorly reasoned attack on AC Transit’s Transbay bus service. 

Repeating the truism that different services in the same transportation corridor are necessarily “duplicative,” Mr. Gammon omits the step of actually assessing individual travel behavior and markets, concluding that if AC Transit’s Transbay service were discontinued, current riders would simply hop back on a BART train. He suggests that the displaced Transbay riders could simply fill the spaces created by those casualties of the economic crisis who are no longer making the trip through BART’s Transbay tube during the commute period.

As an operator of Transbay service since 2005, my agency, WestCAT, has studied this issue in depth, and has developed a first-hand knowledge of our riders and their needs. We believe that our Transbay bus service does not compete with BART but instead gives our riders an option beyond driving alone or casual carpooling. Prior to introducing our own Transbay express bus service, we relied on the extensive survey conducted by the UC Institute of Transportation Studies for CalTrans, which demonstrated that there was a large market segment of people who would prefer to use public transit over casual carpooling, but for whom BART was not an option. By offering Transbay service, WestCAT has moved commuters out of private automobiles in the Bay Bridge corridor into buses that now operate at capacity during peak periods. 

Like AC Transit, WestCAT directly serves areas that are distant from BART, and our service is not competitive with BART, but complementary. Just a few years ago, BART was approaching capacity in the Transbay Tube and also in the Embarcadero and Montgomery stations. While the recession has reduced ridership on BART, in the past it has rebounded quickly. When it does rebound, BART would be hard-pressed to carry the 3,000 or 4,000 additional peak-hour passengers that eliminating AC Transit (and WestCAT) Transbay service would send to BART, or onto the Bay Bridge in low-occupancy vehicles. 

In the future, BART will be even more constrained, and we can’t simply walk away from the future due to financial issues today. ABAG forecasts that San Francisco will add almost 250,000 jobs by 2035 (about 10,000 per year). About 40 percent of those jobs have historically been filled by East Bay residents. This translates into 4,000 additional Transbay commuters every year, or four full BART trains added each year.   Clearly, we need additional capacity (and Transbay buses) because BART will be leaving passengers on the platforms.

Finally, transit’s primary mission is not solely to provide service for the transit dependent. Our mission will increasingly be to connect all kinds of people with jobs, schools, and housing so they don’t need a car. We need everyone to drive less and take the bus and train more. If we are serious about meeting the challenges of global warming, Mr. Gammon’s characterization of the issue as “the well-to-do” not wanting to “slum it on BART with the masses” adds nothing to the discussion.

Charles Anderson, General Manager, Western Contra Costa Transit Authority

“Judge Rules for Students Over Teachers,” Seven Days, 5/19

Tenure Helps Students

The story contradicts itself in its very headline. If the judge’s ruling eliminating seniority rights is applied state-wide, tenure could indeed be eliminated. This benefits students? Let’s see. Some teachers are “burned out,” as the article says, and they MIGHT be the ones laid off. Or not. Layoffs are a blunt instrument. Less senior teachers are somehow better teachers? One hopes they’d be smart enough to see through this. Young teachers become older teachers, and without tenure, they would be subject to arbitrary layoffs. And the same people who took their tenure could also take their health care and retirement, presumably with the approval of Mr. Gammon? If the young teachers are as good as the Express seems to think, they’ll be aware of this and perhaps decide to find other careers. And this is a victory of students over teachers?

Tom Price, Berkeley

“The Berkeley Pools Battles,” News, 5/26

Trojan Horse Tax

The voters are getting duped into paying for a general fund tax. It’s a Trojan Horse measure designed to bring in more money than is needed for the pools. The measure description says that $3.5 million a year can only be allocated for the pools. The city could easily rake in more than that in the parcel, per square foot charges. Where does the rest of the money go? Probably usage could go into the $14 million budget hole the city has to deal with. Pension obligations, high salaries, and costs are killing the books in an era of private sector decline and austerity.

The pools themselves are averaging $5.5 million per pool in construction. That’s twice as much as the Orinda Park Pool paid for their large pool renovations. Financing was only $1.9 million!The $5.5 million (times four) will be in a thirty-year bond — and at today’s municipal bond rates (BAD!!!!) we can be talking $1 million a year. Talk about blowing up the credit card …

The voters in Berkeley have Stockholm Syndrome and lap up any liability or tax the government throws at them. There seems to be an attitude that if things aren’t overpriced and bloated that it’s just not good enough. THEY want a bad deal and they WANT to pay more taxes. It’s just an odd, lazy mentality that plagues the city. I would remind them that 30 years of $1 million a year interest payments could rebuild Iceland or many other projects.

Justin Lee, Berkeley

Support Measure C

I was disappointed with your article on May 26 covering the Berkeley Measure C (the Berkeley Public Pools bond measure) controversy.  The article gave too much coverage to the Measure C opposition at the expense of some relevant facts — in particular, that Measure C has been endorsed by Mayor Bates and all Berkeley City Council members, as well as all members of the Berkeley School Board. As a forty-year resident, Berkeley homeowner and longtime user of the Warm Pool, I think that an average tax of $70/year for a 1,900-square-foot home is a fair investment in a future of health and fitness for Berkeley residents of all ages. It’s time for Berkeleyans to step up and show the same vision and foresight they apply to politics and vote to pass Measure C.

Fredric Gey, Berkeley


Thankful for the Gang Injunction

We’ve lived in North Oakland for eight years. The area of Oakland we live in is bordered by two other cities, Berkeley on the North and Emeryville to the West.

According to the SF Chronicle, this part of North Oakland, 94608, is the hottest-selling zip code above asking price, second only to the Chicago Loop. According to OPD, we live in Area 1 Beat 10X.

Residents here are angry and sick of dodging bullets on our streets, having bullets pierce our homes, and having seventeen-year-old girls lose their promising lives here on our streets. More mundane but just as serious is that we all hear nearby gunshots day and night, see child and teenage prostitutes on our section of San Pablo Ave., dice-games on our corners, open-air drug dealing, and other forms of urban blight associated with these activities.

I became involved in crime prevention and community improvement when I noticed that there were some 3,000 homes and more than 6,000 great folks in our beat, and only a small handful of people who were preventing us from the peaceful enjoyment of our neighborhood.Many of us are thrilled that our part of North Oakland was chosen as the pilot site for the Gang Injunction. We know that it is no magic pill or panacea that will rid us of crime once and for all, but it is an innovative tool for the city to curb the rampant crime here.

We love our homes and neighborhoods but we don’t love the crime, we think this injunction directed at a few bad-guys will help stop the cycle of violence that dismays most Oakland residents.

Larry Benson, Oakland

Democracy Now

Schwarzenegger’s latest cuts to all Californians prove that we need democracy in our state government now more than ever.Because a minority of the legislature can hold the budget process hostage, we’ll have another costly, late, and reckless budget that doesn’t represent the people. It’s no coincidence that the only state with minority rule on both budget and revenue also suffers from the worst deficit and the most painful cuts. We need 50 percent votes on both budget and revenue now.

The governor has shown that he’s scared of the student movement to save public education, but he can’t appease us by while harming our families and communities instead. A real commitment to education and to California means an investment in children and the working class. That kind of crucial support can never be delivered while California’s revenue stream is in the hands of a minority of legislators.

As university students, we care about the well-being of all Californians, not just our own fees. I want my younger siblings and little cousins to have the opportunities I have, but will they be able to reach higher education at all in a state that denies necessary medical care and childcare? We need sustainable solutions for California that don’t just alternate between cutting social programs and education. Funding for both is required to produce a well-educated work force, and the only way to get funding is through a democratic budget and revenue process.

Eli Wirtschafter, Berkeley


The May 26 version of Town Business, “Oakland’s One-Stop Service,” mistakenly stated that Oakland’s Business Assistance Center was the brainchild of Gregory Hunter, deputy director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Agency. Hunter was the driving force behind the development of the center, but it originated from Mayor Ron Dellums’ Small Business Task Force and was carried forward by City Council President Jane Brunner.

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